Taif Season to transform Saudi Arabia into major global tourist hub  

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Historians believe that Souq Okaz may date back more than 1,500 years. It was popular with a diverse audience, with Arabs flocking there for all kinds of reasons. (Photos/SPA)
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A view of the Jordanian pavilion at Souq Okaz. Dozens of events are being held as part of the festival in Taif.
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Updated 18 August 2019

Taif Season to transform Saudi Arabia into major global tourist hub  

  • Taif Season aims to highlight Saudi Arabia as an international tourist destination, Taif’s historical status, its cultural and artistic diversity, and its moderate climate
  • Souq Okaz offers opportunity to experience the rich culture of 11 Arab countries

TAIF: Taif Season is one of 11 festivals aimed at transforming the Kingdom into an important global tourist destination. Dozens of events have been taking place this month in the southwestern city, which is famous for its heritage and beautiful landscapes.
But visitors have less than two weeks to enjoy this particular cultural celebration, which includes a camel festival, a vibrant souq, a rose village, a circus show, and a poetry competition with prizes of up to SR1 million ($266,667).
One of the highlights of Taif Season is Souq Okaz, where people can experience the culture of 11 different Arab nations by visiting pavilions showcasing the food, art and goods from the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia. There is also, of course, a pavilion for the host nation.
More than 2,000 actors, dressed in traditional clothes, greet people in Arabic and create stories based on their exchanges with visitors.
Performers also recreate scenes from the past that help visitors to know more about Taif’s life in a different, pre-Islamic era.
The souq also plays host to some of the region’s biggest musical stars such as the UAE’s Ahlam and Hussein El Jasmi, and Syria’s Assala.
There are also performances from Saudi Arabia’s Abadi Al-Johar and Dalia Mubarak. These concerts will take place between Aug. 23 and Aug. 30.
Okaz Avenue conjures up the past through artistic events featuring the work of famous Arab poets and intellectuals such as Annabigha Al-Dhubyani, Imru Al-Qais, Amr bin Kalthoum, Tarafa bin Al-Abd and Antara bin Shaddad. There are duels with swords and spears, horse and camel convoys, and re-enactments of ancient auctions.
Historians believe that Souq Okaz may date back more than 1,500 years. It was popular with a diverse audience, with Arabs flocking there for all kinds of reasons. It attracted tribes and poets. It was a place for everything from deal-making to war reconciliation sessions. Valuable items from overseas were exhibited there, transported by convoys from Damascus and Yemen. This hubbub has disappeared over the years, but the souq’s former vibrancy is being brought back to life, with its latest reincarnation in the form of Taif Season.
Elsewhere in the city, Ruddaf Park highlights the history of the rose perfume industry that Taif has long been known for.
Taif sits in the Sarawat Mountains and is one of the few places in the Kingdom where people can enjoy pleasant temperatures throughout the year. It has the perfect conditions for growing the Taif Rose. This perfume has a special role in the ceremonial washing of the Holy Kaaba covering, known as the kiswat.
Taif is also known for its agricultural products and visitors to the city’s fruit market can enjoy the taste of locally grown grapes, pomegranates and figs.
Thrill-seekers can take part in more vigorous events such as free jumping, parachuting and mountain jogging, while also getting unique views of the city’s landmarks.
Families can head to the camel festival, where there are acrobats, clowns and educational activities.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The festival includes a camel festival, a vibrant souq, a rose village, a circus show, and a poetry competition with prizes of up to $266,667.

• The souq attracted tribes and poets. It was a place for everything from deal-making to war reconciliation sessions.

There are events in the city’s main malls as well as tours to Taif’s historical landmarks and mosques.
Most attractions run between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m, although some finish later.
Taif Season aims to highlight Saudi Arabia as an international tourist destination, Taif’s historical status, its cultural and artistic diversity, and its moderate climate.
It also seeks to contribute to achieving goals within the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan, which aims to improve the quality of life, raise living standards, and create career and investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia.
Ahmed Al-Khateeb, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, said last month that the season depended on positive engagement with Taif’s residents, and was providing seasonal job opportunities for young men and women, as well as investment opportunities for regional entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises.
“We’ll celebrate a successful season,” the Saudi Press Agency reported him as saying, as he urged the private sector to contribute to enriching future ones.
Taif Season has its own social media account — https://twitter.com/taifseason?lang=en and information can also be found on the Saudi Seasons website here https://www.saudiseasons.sa/en. Taif Season runs until Aug. 31.


Pentagon chief visits Saudi Arabia as tensions simmer with Iran

Updated 18 min 48 sec ago

Pentagon chief visits Saudi Arabia as tensions simmer with Iran

  • The visit comes days after Pentagon said it was bolstering its forces in the Kingdom amid tensions with Iran
  • In October, the Pentagon said it was deploying new US troops to Saudi Arabia following attacks on Saudi oil plants

RIYADH: US Defense Secretary Mark Esper arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday, with tensions simmering between the United States and Iran, and Russia seeking to increase its regional influence.
Al-Ekhbariyah television gave no details on the previously unannounced visit, which comes after Esper visited Afghanistan.
Esper is likely to meet King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on his first trip to the key Middle East ally since he took office this summer, a visit intended partly to reassure Riyadh over bilateral ties.

US-Iran tensions have risen to new highs since May 2018, when the Trump administration withdrew from a 2015 international nuclear accord with Tehran that put limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of sanctions.
The United States has deployed military forces to Saudi Arabia to bolster the Kingdom’s defenses after an attack on oil sites last month.
The Sept. 14 attack knocked out two major processing facilities of state oil giant Aramco in Khurais and Abqaiq, roughly halving Saudi Arabia’s oil production.
Washington condemned the attacks as a “act of war” but neither the Saudis nor the United States have overtly retaliated.

Esper said that two fighter squadrons and additional missile defense batteries were being sent to Saudi Arabia, bringing to about 3,000 the total number of troops deployed there since last month.
Despite the additional troops, there are questions about the US commitment to allies in the region after Trump announced a sudden withdrawal from northeastern Syria, opening the door for Russia to increase its influence in the Middle East.
A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States still wanted to be seen as the partner of choice in the region and Russia was not as dependable, whether it be the level of training or the military equipment it can provide.
President Vladimir Putin signalled Moscow’s growing Middle East clout last week on his first visit to Saudi Arabia in over a decade, buoyed by Russian military gains in Syria, strong ties with Riyadh’s regional rivals and energy cooperation.
(With Reuters and AFP)